KING COVE - Five rural communities on the Aleutians are set to receive new all-hazard warning siren systems within the next year.
The sirens are intended to warn people about a tsunami, but can also alert residents about volcanic activity, windstorms, flooding and missing children. Once a siren gets the community's attention, a prerecorded voice message will say whether it's a test or an actual emergency.
The project is being paid for with a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The communities of Adak, Atka, King Cove, Nikolski and St. Paul are to receive the new warning system. Installation already has been completed in other parts of the state, ranging from small villages such as Perryville, Whittier and Seldovia to larger towns such as Seward, Sitka and Valdez.
"This was a godsend because we have been trying to look at something better for warning the community because (the current) warning siren isn't really adequate," said Chris Babcock, the fire chief and emergency medical services coordinator in King Cove.
The threat of a tsunami is great in Alaska. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides all have the potential to generate a monster wave capable of massive destruction. Many remote locations have outdated or unserviceable warning systems. Some have nothing at all.
"I don't know that there is an old system," said Peggy Campbell, the city clerk in Adak, which lies between the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean.
Campbell moved to Adak last year and has already been through two major earthquakes.
"If you had a 7.2 in Los Angeles it would be leveled," Campbell said. "Well, we get them I wouldn't say frequently but I bet you we've had two that were beyond 7.0 since I've been here."
Babcock said he witnessed two tsunamis in the 1990s that forced the lower levels of town to be evacuated. The current siren, upgraded in 2003, is an improvement from those days, but far from perfect, he told The Dutch Harbor Fisherman newspaper.
"If the weather is a certain way a lot of people can't hear it in the low-lying areas unless they have their window open or their door open or they're standing outside," Babcock said.